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Don’t Know Much About History

What started as a self-satisfied Twitter rant against those knuckle-dragging, Luddite theists ended as a picture-perfect portrait of epistemic closure.

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Vanity Fair editor and New York Times best-selling author Kurt Eichenwald doesn’t know much about a science book, but he does know Christians hate science and Republicans are stupid. But what started as a self-satisfied Twitter rant against those knuckle-dragging, Luddite theists ended as a picture-perfect, Eichenwald-signed portrait of epistemic closure.

https://twitter.com/seanmdav/statuses/382232464342540288

https://twitter.com/seanmdav/statuses/382238597065093120

https://twitter.com/seanmdav/statuses/382238781799022592

https://twitter.com/seanmdav/statuses/382239522127241216

https://twitter.com/seanmdav/statuses/382241020789796864

https://twitter.com/seanmdav/statuses/382243026082332672

Leave it to a “pro-science” liberal to advocate for the elimination of science education.

Eichenwald actually came very close to teaching his son a valuable lesson, exemplified in this very Twitter exchange. Namely, that individuals with a significant emotional or financial investment in the validation of their beliefs tend to reject findings that contradict those very beliefs, no matter the evidence. In some instances, these individuals may even use the levers of political power to shut down dissent. That Eichenwald thinks this is somehow limited to a particular religion or political party, rather than a stubbornly consistent failing of human nature in general, is telling. That Eichenwald failed to see that he personified the very behavior he and his son mocked is just sad.

In contrast to the one-sided story presented by Eichenwald, history is littered with individuals, some religious and some not, who tossed science aside when it became convenient for them to do so. Unfortunately, we don’t need to travel back in time very far to find bipartisan examples of this dynamic. From battles over vaccines that have saved millions, or over genetically modified foods that have fed billions, the modern era is full of examples of special interest groups ignoring Science™ whenever it happens to suit their needs. Just as some Christians in history have muzzled voices preaching the benefits of scientific progress, so, too have atheists ignored and abused science to achieve their own political goals. To suggest otherwise is to deny history — that is, the observation of the workings of nature — and denying history is a first-degree crime against science.

The modern era is full of examples of special interest groups ignoring science whenever it suits their needs.

An aside: In a throwaway line, Eichenwald suggested that using religious beliefs to inform scientific research was wrong. Insofar as he was implying that you should neither endorse nor throw away research results based on whether they comport with your pre-existing religious beliefs, I agree.

But Eichenwald misses a subtle yet very important reason why Christians and other theists enter the field of science in the first place. As Oxford mathematician John Lennox has noted, we endeavor to study nature because we presume that it is subject to certain unchanging laws. And we believe in those laws of nature because we believe they were enacted by a law giver, since laws neither write nor enact themselves. The belief in unchanging laws of nature is the foundation of all scientific research. Experimentation as a method of science only works so long as the rules of the game don’t change between experiments.

Rather than arrogantly (and incorrectly) implying that “the Church” and its adherents are responsible for stifling scientific progress throughout all of human history, Eichenwald should take some time to familiarize himself with the long list of remarkable scientific achievements of Christian scientists that were built on the foundational belief that the laws of nature are constant and predictable precisely because they were set in place by a supreme law giver.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhzG9aeOn9w